What is Christmas really about? For many people, it is merely a holiday. For many others, it is about Santa and presents. For those of us who are Christians or are quite familiar with Christianity, we know that it is about the birth of Jesus Christ. But dare I say it is more than just that. Now, before you raise your voice and complain, please let me explain. Yes, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ. Spot on. However, if we don’t recapture the true meaning of the birth of Christ, the phrase “Jesus was born” might become simply a nice phrase to say without any deep meaning. Christmas carols would become simply nice tunes to be sung during this festive season. The name of Jesus Christ might be overused that we either ignore or depreciate its meaning.
So, what really happened on Christmas? In a simple phrase, this is what really happened: “God became man.” Now, what is so special about that, you may ask. It is a big deal… a huge deal in fact. The first chapter of John’s gospel unveils what really happened on Christmas.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:1-5, 14,16-18)
That is what we really need to remember as we celebrate Christmas. God the Son – the Word of God – became man.
We who live in 21st century may not fully appreciate what John has to say. But if you read that paragraph using the lens of the first century Jews, you will come to realise the weight of what really happened.
The Jews trace their ancestry back to Abraham as their father. However, as a nation, they trace themselves back to the Egyptian slavery. It was there when they became a people. And when God delivered them from Pharaoh, they officially became a nation. What distinguished them from the Egyptians was this: while Egyptians had many gods, their gods were not really present. They were shaped and made by human hands. Not only were they not free agents, they were dumb, mute, lame, and impotent.
On the other hand, the God of the Hebrews was (and still is) active, moving, and present. This God poured the ten plagues onto the land of Egypt. This God also spoke. This God was also present with them throughout the journey in the form of pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. God did all that by His own initiative. He initiated, He acted, He accomplished, and He delighted in what He did. He was not bound by anyone or anything, and He was sovereign over all. The pride of the Jews as a nation was that God, the sovereign God of the heaven and earth, had chosen to dwell among them: in the Tabernacle during the journey to the Promised Land, and then in the Temple in Jerusalem. The fact that God dwelled among the Israelites, for us, might just be a good historical knowledge to have. But for them, this is much more than that. To them, this is an amazing experience. God’s unmistakable presence was part of their experience as a nation.
During the Babylonian exile, however, this presence was threatened (or at least that’s how Israel felt). With the Temple destroyed, they thought God has abandoned them. When they came back from exile, they built the Temple again hoping that God would make His presence real again. That time, however, never came. God’s presence was not felt nearly as real as His presence in Solomon’s Temple, especially during the dedication of the Temple (see 1 Kings 8). During the exile period, the prophets predicted that God would be present with them again in a real sense. The prophets even prophesied that God would establish His kingdom on earth. Hundreds of years passed by and in many sense the Jews were longing for God to be present among them again. And then … on that one not-so-silent night, He did. This time, it was different. He did not just come and dwell among human beings in the form of cloud, smoke, fire, and other things. He came and became a human being. He, who is a free being, is now bound by time, space, and human body. God who was invisible, incomprehensible, and infinite, has become visible, touchable, and finite. We who have never seen God, now know how God would be like if He was human. This, my friend, is what really happened on Christmas. God became man, and dwelt among us. Please take time to ponder upon this and appreciate what Christmas is really about. Merry Christmas 2014 and Happy New Year 2015.